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Respiration is one of the essential functions of life. To put it simply, if we cannot breathe, then we cannot live. So what happens when those who have trouble breathing require care? Chances are, a respiratory therapist will treat them at some point. Respiratory therapists are much needed in today’s healthcare industry and are paid an annual salary. In this guide, we will dive much deeper into this career than just the average respiratory therapist salary.

We will be exploring the top 3 current respiratory jobs, the regions with the highest paying respiratory therapist jobs, and how their salary compares to similar medical careers. Before we get into this, however, it’s important to get a bit of background information on the career itself.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

man and child respiratory therapist salary

Respiratory therapists (RTs) provide care to patients with heart and lung conditions which cause them to have problems breathing. Conditions that respiratory therapists usually treat include asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, sleep apnea, and cystic fibrosis. In some cases, RTs assist in the treatment of patients suffering from a stroke, heart attack, shock, or drowning.

Primary Duties

  • Coordinate treatment plans with physicians
  • Examine and interview patients
  • Treat patients with a variety of methods including aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy
  • Perform diagnostic tests which measure lung capacity
  • Teach patients and their families how to use equipment and medication
  • Record and monitor patient progress

Work Environment and Schedule

three man looking at the paper respiratory therapist salary

Around 81% of respiratory therapists work in local, state, or federal hospitals. The remainder work in environments such as nursing care facilities and physician offices. Respiratory therapists tend to work long hours with most of their shift spent on their feet. During their shift, respiratory therapists will work with registered nurses, medical assistants, physicians, and surgeons. The majority of respiratory therapist salary jobs are full-time. Because they work in medical facilities with patients who can require care at any time, RTs can work days, nights, weekends, and national holidays.

Important Qualities

Respiratory therapists play important parts in the health-care setting. It’s not an easy job and a respiratory therapist must be able to do the following: 

  • Provide compassionate care for their patients and be sympathetic towards their needs
  • Have knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and mathematics in order to provide proper dosages of medications
  • Be detail-oriented to be able to record the correct information about their patients
  • Have strong problem-solving skills to evaluate the situation and decide the best course of action
  • Have patience in order to work long hours and provide for those who need special attention
  • Be team players with coworkers and superiors

How Much Do They Make?

hands taking blood pressure  respiratory therapist salary

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average respiratory therapist salary is around $58,000 per year. The 10% lowest-paid RTs make around $42,000 per year and the highest-paid 10% of respiratory therapists make around $80,000 per year.

Many factors may go into determining a respiratory therapist’s salary including the region they work in and the environment they work in. Some RT environments require more specialized care which tend to pay a higher salary.

Are Respiratory Therapists in Demand?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 15 million Americans currently suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is the scientific term for those who have conditions which inhibit or restrict their breathing. By the year 2020, there will be a high percentage of the population that will be over the age of 55. Older individuals are more susceptible to COPD.

Given this data, it is safe to assume there will be a high demand for respiratory therapists in the coming years. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for RTs will grow by 23% through the year 2026. This equates to over 30,000 new respiratory therapist salary jobs.

How Do I Become One?

At the bare minimum, you must have an associate’s degree to work as a respiratory therapist. However, most employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s. Educational programs offered include those at colleges, universities, and the US Armed Forces. In order to become licensed, the educational program must be accredited by Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. High school students who are interested in becoming a respiratory therapist should focus on taking classes in health, math, biology, physics, and chemistry.

Respiratory therapists are required to be licensed in all 50 states except Alaska. Exact licensure requirements will vary from state to state. Most states require graduates to pass a certification exam. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main certifying body in the field. The NBRC classifies respiratory therapists into two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist.

Respiratory Therapist Salary and Job Information

a respiratory therapist and a child in the hospital

Now that we have a better understanding of what a respiratory therapist does and how to become one, we can now take a look at the job and respiratory therapist salary information. As mentioned earlier, the average salary for an RT is around $58,000 per year. It’s important to understand that this is not a standard salary, however. Many factors go into determining a respiratory therapist salary. The two main factors are experience and location. Some RT careers involve more special skills and some regions pay more for respiratory therapists. Let’s check out the regions with the highest annual salary.

  • Highest-Paying Cities for Respiratory Therapists

The top 5 highest-paying cities for respiratory therapists are all located in California. The highest-paying city for respiratory therapists is Santa Cruz, with a respiratory therapist salary of $104,230. Next in rank is San Francisco, with a salary of $97,210. Third on the list is the city of Vallejo with a figure of $91,880.

Fourth and fifth on the list are the cities of San Rafael and Sacramento with annual salaries of $90,030 and $89,130, respectively. One thing to keep in mind about this data is that California has a higher cost of living than most regions in the United States, which can partially explain the abnormally high respiratory therapist salary.

  • Highest-Paying States for Respiratory Therapists

As you guessed, the highest-paying state for respiratory therapists is California with an average salary of $78,820 per year. Second in the United States is Nevada with an average annual salary of $72,630. New Jersey comes in at third on the list with an average salary of $71,940. Fourth and fifth on the list are the states of Alaska and New York with average annual salaries of $71,820 and $71,100, respectively. Based on a lower cost of living than California, Nevada would seem to be the state where you can actually make and save the most money working as a respiratory therapist, with Alaska, New York, and New Jersey trailing not too far behind.

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